Anselm McDonnell Wins Prestigious Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition

Anselm McDonnell has been announced as this year’s winner of the prestigious Seán Ó Riada composition competition. The competition invites submissions of new works annually from Irish composers and is held in collaboration with the Cork International Choral Festival and Chamber Choir Ireland.

Anselm McDonnell’s winning composition, ‘Gallagher’, – a homage to the music of Rory Gallagher, will have its world premiere at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral Cork on Friday, May 3rd, at 7.30pm.

McDonnell, from Belfast, collaborated with author Tim MacGhabhann on the composition, after they bonded over a mutual love of the famous guitarist, during their time as resident artists at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris. The musician piece weaves several quotations from the musician’s work into a musical texture that plays off the rich imagery in Tim’s poems.

An Irish/Welsh composer, Anselm McDonnell has composed over ninety pieces for various ensembles, including orchestras, chamber groups, choirs, soloists, and electronics. His talent and musical prowess, which include having his music performed in thirteen countries, have earned him this prestigious recognition. The performance of ‘Gallagher’ will be part of the Cork International Choral Festival’s annual collaborative concert with choir-in-residence, Chamber Choir Ireland, led by their Artistic Director Paul Hillier. This promises to be a night of exceptional musical talent, marking Hillier’s 16th and final year as Artistic Director.

The Seán Ó Riada competition, which has been running for over 50 years, provides a platform for Irish composers to have their work judged and rewarded solely on its own merits. Submissions are made under pseudonyms, ensuring anonymity until after the judges’ decision has been made. The competition aims to present Irish choirs with fresh, authentic material for their programs and has attracted renowned composers throughout its history.

Anselm McDonnell has been announced as this year’s winner of the prestigious Seán Ó Riada composition competition.

Commenting on the news of his win, Anselm McDonnell said, “It’s an honour to have been chosen as the winner of this year’s Seán Ó Riada Competition for ‘Gallagher’ my collaboration with author Tim MacGhabhann. I’m looking forward to working with Chamber Choir Ireland again, as they bring such a rich sound and interpretive nuance to new compositions. I’m excited that the work’s premiere will be part of the Cork International Choral Festival, especially given the close link between Gallagher and Cork, his childhood home and burial place”.

Chamber Choir Ireland member Eoghan Desmond, composer Rhona Clarke, and Conductor of Chamber Choir Ireland, Paul Hillier, who evaluated McDonnell’s winning piece, summarised their reaction, stating, “The text is strong and the music responds to it well without losing its own character. The musical textures are nicely varied, keeping things fresh, yet focused, and the vocal lines work with imaginative variation. While challenging, it is accessible to a wide range of high-level amateur choirs. The composer’s use of rhythm and texture creates an engaging piece for singers and audiences alike”.

With more than 240 compositions being submitted in the past 10 years of the new format, the Seán Ó Riada Composition Competition illustrates the number of composers now working and living in Ireland, and further demonstrates the Cork International Choral Festival’s continuing commitment to encourage the composition and performance of contemporary music. Past winners include Solfa Carlisle, Rhona Clarke, Patrick Connolly, Frank Corcoran, Séamas de Barra, Eoghan Desmond, Michael Holohan, Marian Ingoldsby, Donal MacErlaine, Simon MacHale, Michael McGlynn, Kevin O’Connell, Amanda Feery, Criostóir Ó Loingsigh, Donal Sarsfield, James May, Peter Leavy, Norah Constance Walsh, Darragh Black Hynes and last year’s winner Laura Heneghan.

This year’s Cork International Choral Festival which is set to bring Cork to life with song takes place from 1st – 5th May 2024. For more see

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